It would be so easy, if you watched certain parts of the meeting of Multnomah County's top officials this morning, to think Portland's storied Veritable Quandary restaurant is standing in some massive coliseum, looking toward the five county commissioners for an up-thumb or down-thumb, wondering if it will be thrown to the lions.

Well-heeled Portlanders and Veritable Quandary (VQ) kitchen staffers and the restaurant's owner all sat before the board proclaiming what the restaurant means to them, and to the city. They bemoaned the potential loss of the venerable establishment due to a brand new courthouse the county wants to build next door, and, with that loss, $1.5 million in local wages the restaurant pays out to 75 employees each year. Some people cried. More came close.

"I don't think as a culture we should tear down treasures," said VQ owner Dennis King, tears shining in his eyes. "We should make those treasures last forever, and I think that's what I've created for downtown Portland."

You'd pull for all of them desperately if you didn't step back for a second and consider the actual situation, which is this:

Nobody's talking about killing the VQ. Nobody wants to touch the VQ. Even its popular patio, which sits on county-owned land with the county's permission, is safe.

Instead, Multnomah County is proposing to use its own land—a rare undeveloped space in the densest part of a fast-growing city, and already near existing criminal justice infrastructure—for a needed public building. And it looks, for now, like that's what might happen.

After hours of emotional testimony—from both passionate VQ partisans and attorneys and judges who badly want a new courthouse— the county board voted unanimously to push forward with a plan that designates the Hawthorne Bridgehead space as the county's "preferred site" for the building.

That vote wasn't guilt-free for some. Commissioner Jules Bailey chided the county for not allowing a more-thorough public process before final sites were arrived at.

"I don't think we did our job," Bailey said, before noting: "We desperately need a new courthouse. The circles of the requirements of what we need for the courthouse, in my mind, converge on this site."

Here's the controversial plot:

The plan, as conceived, would involve "unprecedented" leveraging of state funds, officials say, with the legislature expected to kick in roughly half of the minimum $250 million estimated cost. That's one of the main reasons the county, after decades of trying and failing to get momentum on a courthouse project, is keen on pushing forward quickly.

"To continue this work and drag it out, I'm concerned that the (good will) might not be there in the legislature in 10 years," said State Rep. Jennifer Williamson, who's led efforts to obtain state money for the building.

Williamson, like many others who spoke today, invoked the dire promise of the current courthouse on SW 4th: It will likely come crashing down when Portland sees the big earthquake everyone's expecting.

"It is one of the few buildings that people are compelled to be in," Williamson said. "This is a health and safety issue for our state."

Williamson described having jury duty recently, and said she was uneasy the whole time. Judges and attorneys say they've always got violent death in the back of their heads while at work. And Multnomah County judges further argue they should have secure parking, and their own elevators, to help protect them from a grudge-prone populace.

"Thank goodness we haven't had any recent tragedies in the building, but we are worried every day about what might happen," Multnomah County Presiding Circuit Judge Nan Waller told the commission.

As conceived, a new courthouse would be in the range of 345,000 to 360,000 square feet, though precise schematics are a long ways off. It could be connected, via tunnel, to the Multnomah County Justice Center, one of the city's main jails. But it wouldn't contain traffic court or the District Attorney's office like the current courthouse. It's unclear where those would go.

Another thing the courthouse wouldn't do: Touch the VQ, or its county-owned patio land. Officials say they'd take pains to avoid disruption.

Proponents of the bridgehead site don't shy from dramatic allusions, essentially telling commissioners the courthouse would be a shining beacon of justice, announcing to anyone traversing the Willamette that this is a community that takes its lawlessness seriously.

The VQ, and adjacent condo building Jefferson Station, disagree. The restaurant is well regarded for high-end fare, but its identity is wrapped up in more than food. The verdant county-owned land off of the patio has led to what the restaurant's website calls "a veritable oasis in the heart of the city." King, his employees, and his supporters think the eatery's prominence will disappear if the view is marred.

"You're going to be displacing many of us," one employee told the commission. "You're asking for more than just sacrifice."

Today's vote means county staffers will begin detailed analyses the bridgehead site. They'll also look into the second-favorite option, a surface parking lot near KOIN Tower. Purchasing and preparing that lot could ratchet up the courthouse costs by as much as $20 million, according to county officials. But it would also potentially offer a simpler overall project, with an entire block to build from instead of an awkward lot stuffed at the end of a bridge.

If all goes as planned, the county commission will choose one of the sites next spring. The project would break ground in 2016.